Is Ward Churchill the New Michael Bellesiles?





Mr. Brown is Assistant Professor of Sociology at Lamar University. At the height of the controversy over Ward Churchill the media repeatedly cited Brown's work, which concluded that Churchill "has committed research fraud, and very possibly committed perjury as well." In an article Brown published on his faculty website, he presented evidence that Churchill falsely claimed that the US Army distributed infected blankets to spread a smallpox epidemic among the Mandan people in 1837: "My goal here was to show how and why Churchill engaged in such blatant fraud, and why no one has challenged him on it until now."

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I’m beginning to see Ward Churchill as the carny in the dunking booth, who hurls insults at the crowd, and then howls with outrage when he gets soaked. Yes, the unenlightened were out to get you. Yes, the system was rigged against you by the power structure. No argument there. But should anyone care?

For the second time in the new millennium, a university professor has come under heavy fire from the political right, and is in danger of losing his job as a consequence. The most prominent dispute in recent years concerned the scholarship of Michael Bellesiles, a history professor at Emory University, who argued that a small minority of Americans owned guns during the early national period. Bellesiles’s thesis was a direct assault on the National Rifle Association’s claim of widespread gun ownership in American history. Thus the Bellesiles controversy opened with the two sides clearly distinguished by their policy leanings.

The gun lobby opened the fray by accusing Bellesiles of fabricating evidence. At first, Bellesiles responded with a defense of his scholarship, founded on evidentiary claims. As it became more and more apparent that Bellesiles’s evidence was questionable at best, Bellesiles turned to political stereotypes to defend himself. Now, Bellesiles would position himself as a professional scholar being assailed by right-wing gun nuts engaged in amateur history. This tactic bought Bellesiles some additional support from the academy, for a time, until it became obvious to nearly everyone that his scholarship actually was of dubious reliability. As this uncomfortable fact dawned, scholars began withdrawing their support, in a state of embarrassment and betrayal. Bellesiles’s initial interlocutors may have been amateurs driven by their political opposition to his thesis, but their criticism turned out to be more believable than Bellesiles’s defense.

The instigating issue today is a three-year-old essay written by Ward Churchill, a University of Colorado ethnic studies professor. Churchill is under attack from the right for likening victims of the World Trade Center attack to Adolph Eichmann, the notorious Nazi implicated in genocide. Churchill’s opponents object to his insults to the dead, and to his implicit support for the terrorists who perpetrated the attack. Churchill’s defenders on the left have preferred to downplay or ignore his characterization of the 9/11 victims, and to instead defend justify his essay’s central thesis—that US foreign policy was a predictable motivating factor behind the attacks. Churchill’s defenders argue that he is being attacked for expressing political dissent. In other words, rather than debating, the two sides are talking past each other, each addressing different aspects of Churchill’s essay in order to score political points.

Meanwhile, Churchill’s critics on the right have taken this opportunity to assail the academy in general for leaning too far to the left. They could not have found a better test case to advance their cause. Colorado’s conservative political class was already at odds with CU, which has endured a number of scandals in recent years. The stakes were raised when Colorado’s Republican legislators introduced a bill last year that would require their public universities to adopt conservative activist David Horowitz’s “Academic Bill of Rights.” The Horowitz manifesto defines academic freedom in terms of “intellectual diversity” and “ exposing students to the spectrum of significant scholarly viewpoints.” Critics view this development as the first step in the politicization of curriculum design and faculty hiring at public universities, with the ultimate goal being to mandate the inclusion of right-wing scholarship. Many saw Colorado as Ground Zero in this action.

Thus when Churchill’s decidedly non-conservative rhetoric entered the public spotlight in January 2005, Colorado’s conservative governor and legislators were prepared to pounce, and called immediately for Churchill’s dismissal. When informed that Churchill’s contract guarantees his tenure from assaults on his freedom of speech, Colorado conservatives sought another justification for ousting Churchill. They were aided by the Colorado mass media, who became as obsessed with all things Churchillian as they had been with JonBenet Ramsay a few years back. Investigations began into every aspect of Churchill’s life. In a truly virtuosic flourish of consilience, Colorado’s more ambitious conspiracy theorists are even beginning to link Churchill to JonBenet’s murder.

Fringe speculations aside, Churchill’s closet does contain a redoubtable collection of verifiable peccadilloes. While employed at CU, Churchill ran a side business in which he reproduced other artists’ images—some of them still under copyright—and then sold them as his own original artwork. Like historian Joseph Ellis, Churchill appears to have exaggerated his military service. Churchill claims to have served in Vietnam as a paratrooper in an elite long-range reconnaissance unit, and walked point on patrol. Yet Churchill’s service record shows that he was trained as a projectionist and Jeep driver. In an early resume, Churchill reports as his military service the dangerous task of preparing his battalion newsletter. They also serve, who only stand behind the lines and publish.

Churchill carried this tradition of epistolary valor over into his civilian career. He apprenticed at Soldier of Fortune magazine in the 1970s, before moving into the academy. In 1998, Churchill published Pacifism as Pathology, a manifesto justifying the use of political violence. Churchill claims to have taught bomb-making to the Weather Underground. Churchill called for breaking the kneecaps of tourists headed for Hawaii, as a political statement in support of Hawaiian nationalism. He repeatedly called for the destruction of the United States. Churchill gave speeches in which he offered justifications and explicit strategies for successful terrorist actions against the US.

Churchill’s personal life echoed this theme of violence. Churchill claims to vandalize or destroy state property as revenge for every traffic ticket he receives. A number of people had accused Churchill of assault or threats of assault. Joanne Arnold, an administrator on Churchill’s home campus, reported that Churchill had threatened in a phone call that she would “get hurt” if she didn’t back off her position in a dispute over naming a dormitory. Carole Standing Elk, an Indian activist, complained that Churchill had spit on her during an argument. David Bradley, a New Mexico artist, complained to his local police that Churchill had threatened to kill him.

The Colorado media also reported that Churchill’s genealogical claims to Indian ancestry are most likely spectral. This became significant when the media uncovered additional evidence showing that Churchill’s Indian identity claims had been a major factor in CU administrators creating a tenured position for him. Officials of the Keetowah Cherokee tribe—including John Ross, the former chief who had arranged an “associate membership” for Churchill in 1994—also repudiate Churchill’s claim to Cherokee identity and to tribal enrollment with the Keetowahs.

Like Bellesiles, Churchill also stands accused of committing scholarly transgressions in his publications. In two pieces published in the 1990s, John LaVelle, a University of New Mexico law professor, accused Churchill of plagiarism and fabrication. LaVelle laid out a compelling argument, substantiated by damning evidence. In the November 2005 issue of Commentary, Guenter Lewy accused Churchill of fabricating a genocide by the US Army against the Mandan Indians in 1837, supposedly by distributing smallpox-infected blankets and then withholding vaccination.

I entered the fray when I placed a partial first draft essay on my faculty website, offering additional evidence in support of Lewy’s initial accusation. I received an onslaught of phone calls, emails, and media inquiries. Among the general public, my essay was hailed by conservative interlocutors, and criticized by many on the left, even though the essay itself contains nothing even remotely relevant to contemporary policy debates, other than my criticisms of Churchill’s scholarship. Once again, a question of scholarly veracity had become politicized.

The current controversy over Ward Churchill is more complex than other recent public disputes over academic freedom. While the Bellesiles controversy was initially motivated by a policy dispute over gun control, the core of the debate focused on the reliability of Bellesiles’s scholarship. In Churchill’s case, the political class in Colorado has made clear that they want Churchill fired for advocating revolution against the United States, and that Churchill’s various other transgressions are simply an excuse to sidestep the inconvenient institution of academic freedom. Because the politicians have created a public evidence trail that even one of our court-appointed defenders down here in Texas could follow—and because Churchill was, for a while, well-endowed with support from the ACLU, the AAUP, and a sizeable number of CU faculty—until Friday morning he stood a good chance of walking away with early retirement and a nice six-figure parting gift to boot.

Then Friday’s papers reported that Fay Cohen, a professor at Dalhousie University, had complained to her school’s attorney in 1997 that Churchill had plagiarized an entire chapter from her. Cohen had originally published the chapter in a book edited by Churchill. When Churchill wanted to reprint the chapter in yet another edited collection, Cohen refused. Churchill’s response was to give the piece a once-over rewrite and publish it anyway, without Cohen’s permission. The press reports indicate that in the second collection, the piece was credited as having been “assembled” by Churchill, without acknowledging Cohen’s original authorship. Dalhousie’s attorney agreed with Cohen that Churchill’s action constituted plagiarism. Dalhousie never reported Churchill’s theft to CU, apparently because Cohen feared physical retaliation from Churchill. She reported a late night phone call in which Churchill threatened “I’ll get you for this.”

When this story entered the public domain, the Colorado regents decided to rethink the notion of buying Churchill out. Regency is an elected office in Colorado, and paying Churchill to go away was more than their constituency could stomach. At this writing, the most likely outcome is a long court battle over academic freedom of speech, with a plaintiff whose behavior few scholars would tolerate, were he one of their own students.

Like Bellesiles, Churchill has played on political symbolism to defend himself. Churchill initially refused to respond to questions about plagiarism and fabricating evidence, nor would he address the issue of ethnic fraud. Instead, Churchill positioned himself as the victim of a right-wing campaign of censorship against dissenting scholars. As the tide turned against him last week, Churchill began spinning madly in an attempt to minimize his violations of scholarly norms. He still maintains that he is a victim of a right wing conspiracy to undermine academic freedom.

As a vocal critic of Churchill’s scholarly transgressions, I have mixed feelings. On one hand, I do not think Churchill is competent to function as a university professor, given his disregard for the norms of honest scholarship. He should not remain in the academy. On the other hand, Churchill is correct when he complains that the assault on him is politically motivated, and is part of a broader assault on the institution of tenure and academic freedom. Thus the academy must support Churchill’s contract rights in this controversy, no matter how distasteful that prospect may be.

But that leaves us at a stand-off. What we have here is a man who climbed onto a rickety chair, put a noose around his own neck, hurled abuse hither and yon, and then complains that the folks kicking the chair out from under him are attacking academic freedom. Are the records of Churchill and other dissenting scholars now immune from review, simply because the review might be politically motivated? If so, that leaves no way to discipline professional misconduct by such people. But if review only happens when you get someone angry at you, it casts a pall over freedom of expression.

Responsibility for this state of affairs traces back to the CU administrators who tenured Churchill—despite his lack of a doctorate, without the normal tenure review, and despite the fact that he avoids publishing in peer-reviewed venues—simply in order to create the impression of racial-ethnic diversity among the campus’s faculty. Documents obtained by the press show that the CU administration had a difficult time finding a department that was willing to roster Churchill. Eventually, they strong-armed the Communications department into accepting him. Additional documents reveal that when CU founded its Ethnic Studies department a few years later, there was no shortage of other qualified applicants for Churchill’s position, and that a number of them had far more legitimate claims to Indian heritage than Churchill.

Had CU only followed the normal vetting procedures for hiring and tenuring faculty, this particular scandal may never have occurred. The CU administration had a second chance to address the problem when Professor LaVelle brought Churchill’s habit of plagiarism and fabrication to light nearly ten years ago. Instead, CU dithered and failed to act, thus allowing the media and the political class to drive the issue.

The Bellesiles controversy was eventually resolved when Bellesiles resigned from Emory. But Churchill is disinclined to go, and has told the press that if fired, he will sue and “own the university”. Whether or not Churchill keeps his job, we in the academy will have to grit our teeth over Churchill’s disregard of scholarly norms, and the consequent loss of legitimacy for the entire academic enterprise. On the other hand, if Churchill is fired, it means that academic freedom of speech now comes with the fear of investigation, should you say the wrong thing to the wrong crowd at the wrong time. Whatever the outcome for Churchill himself, the academy loses.

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    More Comments:


    michael mangels - 4/10/2005

    Actually, there is a "Mr. Sheldon" in this thread. It is the first name of the individual previously referred to as Stern. Hopefully Hugh High will read closer before attempting to damage someone's credibility.


    Kurt Reiger - 3/25/2005

    Thank you, Mr. Stern, for this question. I have been waiting a week for Kirstein to respond. At this point, we can assume the answer is that Kirstein would gladly hire and give tenure to Ward Churchill, Pol Pot, Stalin, Castro, Mao, etc. because Kirstein is a "progresive" who wants to "better" the world. And Larry Summers of Harvard should be fired. And the people who may have voted for Bush, Kirstein would let Pol Pot re-educate them. It would be a joke, unless you are the unfortunate undergrad at Loyola who happens to wander into Kirstein's classroom and does not know the game.


    Sheldon M. Stern - 3/16/2005

    Let me ask again: would Prof. Kirstein defend the retention of a faculty member who declared that slavery and the Holocaust were justified and that slavery should be reestablished and "the final solution" carried out?


    Peter N. Kirstein - 3/16/2005

    I will again limit my remarks, however difficult here, to general comments. I usually prefer to advocate issues on this in a more formal setting but consider the following:

    The granting of tenure is predicated on each institution's standards as long as there is adherence to AAUP procedural guidelines. The attainment of a terminal degree is not required for tenure on a national basis. A professor's lack of a doctorate does NOT constitute inappropriate granting of tenure.

    Plagiarism if proven is a serious offence. Usually, it does not lead to revocation of continuous tenure. If one were to peruse the HNN hotseaters and look at the academicians guilty of plagiarism, none were terminated. I think, however, the issue of plagiarism is a serious one and even if raised in the process of an ideological auto da fe, should be explored. However, I am very concerned about university regents, in the midst of an national outcry of a professor's ideology and a resignation of a president can or should conduct this inquiry. If necessary, any review of a professor should be conducted by her faculty peers and not by a governing board.

    AAUP and national guidelines are rather clear as to the grounds for termination of tenure or other sanctions. I know that the University of Colorado will be carefully scrutinised to ensure that its resolution of the current situation does not violate academic freedom, the meaning of tenure and to preserve appropriate standards of faculty conduct.


    Marc "Adam Moshe" Bacharach - 3/15/2005

    Gonzalo,
    Very well said. I agree entirely.


    Gonzalo Rodriguez - 3/15/2005

    "This is not to say I agree with the tactic or that it was not tasteless...but it can be sustained, and those who challenge it mostly end up contradicting themselves when looking at other instances."

    Actually, the one who has been backtracking, qualifying, and changing his story since this got out has been Churchill himself, as he seeks desperately to find a way to justify such a ridiculous analogy which (I agree with Mr. Moshe) "strips the term civilian of all meaning."

    When pressed, he admitted that, no, not EVERYONE was guilty, just the evil executives, but not the janitors and servicepeople that also died, not to mention the numerous foreigners not implicated in US mass murder. Then, he admitted that he, too, is just as implicated, and that it would be justified if he, too, were targeted by enemy "combat teams."

    An exceptional and impressive bit of honesty. The question, then, is where to stop with the analogy? The American military behemoth couldn't do its dirty work without the profit machine of the WTC. But those execs wouldn't be able to do their job if they had no access to their offices made possible by the maintenance men and janitors of the buildings, or if they weren't provided with affordable food by farmers in Iowa, Mexico, and Brazil. Those farmers depend on manufactured goods from China, created by people eating rice grown in the most pre-modern paddies imaginable.

    Either we are all Eichmanns, and are legitimate military targets, or Churchill is a self-important self-righteous fraud. Which is easier to believe?


    Hugh High - 3/14/2005



    I would strongly endorse the comments of both Mr. Stern and Mr. Heisler.

    And, like many others, I too have wondered where are all the great defenders of academic freedom in the Larry Summers case -- after all, Summers is a professor at Harvard as well as an administrator.

    Again, academic mendacity knows no bounds. At least the Mafia doesn't profess to be a "social good" .


    Charles Edward Heisler - 3/14/2005

    I second High's comment about hypocrisy in academia after many years experience and as to the AAUP's statement:"A college or university campus is, of all places in our society, the most appropriate forum for the widest range of viewpoints. (Posted by AAUP 2/03/05"
    I say "Tell that to David Horowitz and the President of Harvard!"
    Talk about blowing smoke! The AAUP clearly does not believe that campuses are appropriate forums for viewpoints of any range or the organization would have moved years ago to protect critics of much of the silliness that has been touted by the Polically Correct during that time.
    Unfortunately, I have to agree with the author of the article that we truly have a dilemma with Churchill's behavior and statements--no one wants to be in the position of choosing the outcome of this one.


    Sheldon M. Stern - 3/14/2005

    Professor High, in the context you raised, you might enjoy a letter I sent to Newsweek recently concerning an article about the flap over the Larry Summers speech at Harvard. (They didn't print it.)

    To the Editor,

    Daniel McGinn, in his article about the bitter campus controversy over remarks by Harvard President Lawrence Summers, notes that efforts to oust corporate CEO's have become very common. "But, last week," McGinn observed, "this narrative unfolded with high drama in a place where power struggles usually occur more discreetly: the ivory tower" ("Bully in the Pulpit," February 28). He must be kidding! Academic politics is generally not quite as discreet as a power struggle in the Mafia.


    Diana Applebaum - 3/14/2005

    Inside Higher Ed says that CU may back out of the deal to buy out Churchill's contract, because irate Coloradans don't want to pay hundreds fo thousands of dollars to a plagiarist whose politica most people find abhorrent. http://www.insidehighered.com/insider/a_deal_collapses

    Why has he been allowed to teach for so many years? In part, according to the Chronicle, because no one takes action against academic plagiarists unless they're famous http://chronicle.com/free/v51/i17/17a00802.htm


    Marc "Adam Moshe" Bacharach - 3/14/2005

    1) “Did he ever… state that they deserved to die? If not...you have no leg to stand on.”

    Not exactly, no. What he said, just to be clear, was the following:

    “The most that can honestly be said of those involved on September 11 is that they finally responded in kind to some of what this country has dispensed to their people as a matter of course. That they waited so long to do so is, notwithstanding the 1993 action at the WTC, more than anything a testament to their patience and restraint. They did not license themselves to "target innocent civilians." There is simply no argument to be made that the Pentagon personnel killed on September 11 fill that bill. The building and those inside comprised military targets, pure and simple. As to those in the World Trade Center ... Well, really. Let's get a grip here, shall we? True enough, they were civilians of a sort. But innocent? Gimme a break. They formed a technocratic corps at the very heart of America's global financial empire – the "mighty engine of profit" to which the military dimension of U.S. policy has always been enslaved – and they did so both willingly and knowingly. Recourse to "ignorance" – a derivative, after all, of the word "ignore" – counts as less than an excuse among this relatively well-educated elite. To the extent that any of them were unaware of the costs and consequences to others of what they were involved in and in many cases excelling at – it was because of their absolute refusal to see. More likely, it was because they were too busy braying, incessantly and self-importantly, into their cell phones, arranging power lunches and stock transactions, each of which translated, conveniently out of sight, mind and smelling distance, into the starved and rotting flesh of infants. If there was a better, more effective, or in fact any other way of visiting some penalty befitting their participation upon the little Eichmanns inhabiting the sterile sanctuary of the twin towers, I'd really be interested in hearing about it.”

    The above does not explicitly say that they deserved to die, but neither could anyone be blamed for making the implication. He says clearly that they were not innocent, and adds that they were the “very heart of America's global financial empire.” Later, he says of the terrorists the following: “Rather, it's pretty obvious at this point that they were secular activists – soldiers, really – who, while undoubtedly enjoying cordial relations with the clerics of their countries, were motivated far more by the grisly realities of the U.S. war against them than by a set of religious beliefs.”

    If you honestly believe that the above is merely “distasteful commentary” but not “hate speech,” then all I can say is that you and I have never different standards for the term.

    2) “The analogy to "little Eichmanns" may be distasteful, but is surprisingly not so far off base when one considers the different phases of culpability that have been documented in several different texts (NOTE: stalling for time to remember the names...: )).”

    Eichmann was a SS Lieutenant-Colonel who was Chief of the Jewish Office of the Gestapo during World War II and IMPLIMENTED the Holocaust which aimed at the total extermination of European Jewry. The victims of 9/11 were civilians working at commercial jobs, as well as men, women, and children who had absolutely no affiliation with the United States government other than currently residing within their jurisdiction. The comparison is beyond absurd and strips the very term “civilian” of all meaning.

    3) “Granted, many writers have made the general point Churchill made much more eloquently, and with more convincing evidence...but the point he makes is at least consistent with many others that have been made.”

    I can assure you that if I read those as well, and they said the same thing a Churchill, I would be equally appalled.

    4) “Should he lose his job or whatnot for the Eichmann comment? No...but he could be subject to job loss if some of the other allegations are true”

    On this, we are in total agreement.


    Sheldon M. Stern - 3/14/2005

    Mr. Pettit states, "the claim that Eichmann knew of the gas chambers does not fly when reading the actual case." Also, JFK was assassinated by Martians.


    Hugh High - 3/14/2005



    There is no "Mr. Sheldon" in this thread. Let us hope chris pettit will be more careful in his reading in future. Certainly, his apparent ability to read is matched by his taste.


    chris l pettit - 3/14/2005

    state that they deserved to die? If not...you have no leg to stand on. This is the difference between hate speech and simple distasteful commentary. The analogy to "little Eichmanns" may be distasteful, but is surprisingly not so far off base when one considers the different phases of culpability that have been documented in several different texts (NOTE: stalling for time to remember the names...: )). I would actually encourage those who want to try and challenge the Eichmann comment to actually read the decision and underlying problems before making fools of themselves. The claim that Eichmann knew of the gas chambers does not fly when reading the actual case...as some of the same principles were present in many of the financial institutions (wait...are the conservatives actually ready to admit that corps are made of people...can we then arrest and try Cheney and others? consistency people!!) and those who run them. This is not to say I agree with the tactic or that it was not tasteless...but it can be sustained, and those who challenge it mostly end up contradicting themselves when looking at other instances. Granted, many writers have made the general point Churchill made much more eloquently, and with more convincing evidence...but the point he makes is at least consistent with many others that have been made. Should he lose his job or whatnot for the Eichmann comment? No...but he could be subject to job loss if some of the other allegations are true...not that Derschowitz has lost his job at Harvard yet, so I guess perjury can't result in job termination either.

    Need I remind anyone that slavery and the Holocaust were supported legally and in writings while they were going on...and even for a period following their classification as atrocities? Bombing with DU weapons is still defended...50 years from now it will be despised...torture is defended...as is suppressing gay marriage...sorry Mr. Sheldon, if there is a hypocrite in this thread, you would be looking at him when you glance in a mirror.

    CP

    CP


    Hugh High - 3/14/2005

    Mr. Stern asks " is there any limit to politically-motivated academic hypocrisy? "

    As an academic for much of my adult life, I regretably have to say "No, academic hypocrisy, deceit, and mendacity knows no, or few, bounds. "

    My congratulations to Mr. Stern and my condolences to his friends and their families.


    Sheldon M. Stern - 3/14/2005

    Prof. Kirstein cites the AAUP statement in the Ward Churchill case:
    "...we reject the notion that some viewpoints are so offensive or disturbing that the academic community should not allow them to be heard and debated. ... The critical test of academic freedom is its capacity to meet even the most painful and offending statements. A college or university campus is, of all places in our society, the most appropriate forum for the widest range of viewpoints." (Posted by AAUP 2/03/05)

    The daughter of a former colleague of mine was killed on one of the planes that hit the World Trade Center. She was a 45 year-old buyer for a local clothing chain and had three children. The son of a friend, also father of three, was working in the WTC and got out safely. He went back in to help survivors but the building collapsed and his remains have never been found.

    Were these two people junior Eichmanns who deserved to die? Would the AAUP and Prof. Kirstein be willing to make this claim to their families--face to face? Would they also defend the right of a faculty member to argue that slavery and the Holocaust were justified and that slavery should be reestablished and "the final solution" completed? Is there any limit to politically-motivated academic hypocrisy?


    William A. Henslee - 3/14/2005

    Much of the support for Churchill is based on a slavish devotion to tenure as the only thing that insures freedom of ideas within the academe.

    Doesn't the privilege of tenure carry with it the responsibility of integrity in academic matters as well as one's personal life?

    No matter how the investigation of Churchill's past arose, letting him into a tenured position without the proper academic credentials is enough to merit a review. His apparent lack of credentials, multiple plaigarisms, copyright fraud, and other assorted lies with which he has buttressed his claims to an academic career are enough to remove him from the ranks.

    Like the parricide who asks for mercy on the grounds he is an orphan, this poseur and fraud deserves no support from anyone concerned with academic freedom and tenure.


    Peter N. Kirstein - 3/14/2005

    The author cited but I am enclosing the full statement of AAUP with regard to this event. Since my own past is so closely tied to the issue, I will not use this fora to argue the point. I only opine that the author may have wished to more fully amplify the point made in the first sentence of the last paragraph of the AAUP statement:
    ---------------------------------------------------------
    AAUP Statement on Professor Ward Churchill Controversy

    We have witnessed an extraordinary outpouring of criticism aimed both at Professor Ward Churchill of the University of Colorado at Boulder, for his written remarks describing victims of the attacks on September 11, 2001, as "little Eichmanns," and at the invitation for him to speak at Hamilton College in New York. Television commentators urged viewers to write to Hamilton College to condemn what the professor had written and the college’s decision to invite him. More than 6,000 e-mail messages were sent to Hamilton College president Joan Hinde Stewart, who described them as “ranging from angry to profane, obscene, violent.” The governor of New York wrote a letter of protest to President Stewart and in a dinner banquet described Professor Churchill as a "bigoted terrorist supporter." The governor of Colorado called on the professor to resign from the University of Colorado and, one day later, called for his dismissal. Professor Churchill reports that he and his wife have received more than 100 death threats. The prospect of violence at Hamilton College led the administration there to cancel the visit.

    The American Association of University Professors, since its founding in 1915, has been committed to preserving and advancing principles of academic freedom in this nation’s colleges and universities. Freedom of faculty members to express views, however unpopular or distasteful, is an essential condition of an institution of higher learning that is truly free. We deplore threats of violence heaped upon Professor Churchill, and we reject the notion that some viewpoints are so offensive or disturbing that the academic community should not allow them to be heard and debated. Also reprehensible are inflammatory statements by public officials that interfere in the decisions of the academic community.

    Should serious questions arise about Professor Churchill’s fitness to continue at the University of Colorado—the only acceptable basis for terminating a continuing or tenured faculty appointment—those questions should be judged by a faculty committee that affords the essential safeguards of due process, as required by the university’s and the Board of Regents’ official policies. Special care must be taken, however, to avoid applying harsher standards in such a case, or following less rigorous procedures, because of the statements made by Professor Churchill about the tragic events of September 11, 2001. While members of the academic community are free to condemn what they believe are repugnant views expressed by a faculty member, any charges arising from such statements must be judged by the same standards and procedures that would apply to statements unrelated to the terrorist attacks and the loss of life on that fateful day. We must resist the temptation to judge such statements more harshly because they evoke special anguish among survivors and families of the September 11 victims. The critical test of academic freedom is its capacity to meet even the most painful and offending statements. A college or university campus is, of all places in our society, the most appropriate forum for the widest range of viewpoints. (Posted by AAUP 2/03/05


    Hugh High - 3/14/2005

    I could not more agree with Mr. Maass.


    John R. Maass - 3/14/2005

    The author here states erroneously that "For the second time in the new millennium, a university professor has come under heavy fire from the political right, and is in danger of losing his job as a consequence." No, Mr. Brown: Bellesiles lost his job because he made up and distorted evidence to try to prove his blatantly political and false case. The political right may have helped to uncover this, but they did not "cause" him to lose his job.

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